Illinois Republican leaders last night asked conservative talk-show host Alan L. Keyes to be their candidate for the U.S. Senate, but Keyes said that he would take until Sunday to decide whether to run.
Keyes' response extended for at least several days the tortured quest to find a Republican to run against Democratic nominee Barack Obama, continuing to paralyze the party more than six weeks after GOP primary winner Jack Ryan dropped out of the race.
Leaders had hoped to have a candidate after meetings that took two days and more than 14 hours of interviews with 15 candidates and deliberations among the members of Illinois Republican State Central Committee.
Keyes, a Maryland resident who has criticized others for running for office in states where they don't live, was selected over White House deputy drug czar Andrea Grubb Barthwell. Keyes and Barthwell were selected Tuesday as finalists to fill the vacancy created when Ryan dropped out of the race amid a controversy over the court-ordered release of his divorce file.
"I'm not one of those folks who gets up every morning with the certainty that I have something to offer. But I am always willing to consider that when people make that point," Keyes said, going on to say that he was "deeply honored and deeply challenged" by the offer and that it would require a "deep and serious and committed deliberation."
Keyes' entered the race only within the past few days as state Sen. Dave Syverson of Rockford and state Sen. Steve Rauschenberger of Elgin pushed for Keyes' nomination.
Perhaps most problematic for Keyes is that he has few connections to Illinois and has criticized others for carpetbagging. In 2000, conservatives courted Keyes to drop his presidential bid and run against Hillary Rodham Clinton for U.S. Senate in New York, but Keyes condemned the idea and ripped Clinton.
"I deeply resent the destruction of federalism represented by Hillary Clinton's willingness to go into a state she doesn't even live in and pretend to represent people there. So I certainly wouldn't imitate it," he said on Fox News on March 17, 2000.
Clinton purchased a home in upstate New York a few months before announcing her run, while Keyes would have to buy a home in Illinois either during his campaign or immediately after the election. According to federal law, senators have to live in the state they are representing only by the time they take the oath of office.
Yesterday, Keyes acknowledged the apparent hypocrisy of his stance, saying his residency was a difficult issue.
"I do not take it for granted that it's a good idea to parachute into a state and go into a Senate race," he said before entering meeting the Republican leaders. "As a matter of principle, I don't think it's a good idea."
Inside the meeting, the battle to pick the candidate mirrored the skirmishes that have divided the Republican Party for years. Longtime conservatives who want to see the party lean more to the right debated with moderates who feel their way is the party's only chance to regain its strength and broaden its appeal.
Keyes took about 90 minutes to speak with committee members, while Barthwell, who was interviewed by the group a day earlier, spoke for about 50 minutes.
As the debate waged behind closed doors among the committee members, the conservative wing backed Keyes and moderates supported Barthwell. The issue of abortion came to the fore, according to Republican sources close to the talks.
Conservatives pushed hard for Keyes because of his strong stance opposing abortion rights, a position they think would draw the support of core Republicans. Barthwell is considered a candidate who generally supports abortion rights.
Committee members, both conservative and moderate, were impressed by Keyes' firm grasp of the issues and his ability to eloquently express views that contrast sharply with Obama's.
The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.